Saturday, December 31, 2005

You say you want a resolution

I guess one of the benefits (?) of writing a blog is the accountability it gives you when you posted your new year’s resolutions a year earlier for everyone to see and keep track. How did I do? Let’s all find out together:

Repair the giant gap where the outside wall of my condo is ripping away from the inside wall. Done. And I even went one better: I repaired the over-expanded expansion joint at that same intersection. It had become an actual hole that made it unavoidable for me to smell my neighbor’s cooking and smoking; see her lights at night; and hear her phone ringing, her conversations with her hard-of-hearing sister, and her revolting screaming orgasms. And I took pictures (of the repair work—not the orgasms):
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I filled the crack (crack!) with two kinds of expanding foam, which does not sand well, but it seemed to stop the orgasms. (I also got rid of that poor sun-faded, rippled bas relief world map, which I thought was the coolest thing in the … well … world when I got it for Christmas more than 10 years ago.)
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Notice how nice and orgasm-free the wall looks when everything is sanded and painted. Notice how it doesn’t catch on the cheap plastic blinds. Notice the spiffy new valances my mom and dad helped me make last month to hide the cheap plastic tops of the cheap plastic blinds.

Change the HVAC filters. Since I don’t actually have central heat or central air in my condo, this was kind of a stupid resolution to make. My building has heating and air conditioning units (I said units!) built into the outside walls, though. I do know the difference, but blogger must have rewritten my post to make me look gay. In any case, I did take apart the units (I said units!) and wash the filters this summer. So we can consider this resolution achieved as well.

Learn to use a punching bag. There were times this year when I felt like I was a punching bag. Does that count?

Heal from lipo and never do it again. “Healing” is relative, I guess. I have no more pain. I have the remnants of two tiny scars on my hips. But the goo never totally went away, so I don’t count the operation as a complete success—which may or may not be considered “healing.” The never-do-it-again part of the resolution is gonna be pretty easy to keep, though.

Get rid of at least 100 things that are cluttering up my house. I’d estimate I got rid of three or four hundred things this year. And, again, I took pictures:
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above: The top caption is supposed to give you a space-saving double read: Invisible jet phone! and Invisible jet clock! I was going for a really clever Wonder Woman reference, but since I had to explain it to you, the joke is lost. So never mind.
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above: Shiny coats! Which I bought on purpose within the last five years!
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above: Vinyl jeans! Which I bought on purpose within the last three years! (But I never wore two pair of the jeans, so I should get some credit for self-restraint.)
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above: I haven’t had to play dress-up with any regularity since the early ’90s. But I obviously didn’t have to tell you that.
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above: I really have nothing to say here.
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above: De-crapping your life can be so cleansing.
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above: Nothing says I kiss my sister. On the mouth. With tongue. faster than a string tank top. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind never to wear it.
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above: Yes, that is The Sock you see in the upper right. And those are shorty-short short shorts you see in the upper left. And yes, they would have made a lovely ensemble with the string tank top. And no, I am not still in love with Richard Marx.

Run a 5K in under 8-minute miles. I don’t think I officially ran a 5K this year, but I did do an 8K in 8.5-minute miles. And I did some three-mile (which is about a 5K) sprints this year that I never timed. Chalk this resolution up as a kind-of.

Run the Chicago Marathon in under four hours. I shaved 16 minutes off last year’s time, but I was still 20 minutes short of my completely arbitrary four-hour goal. And I’m gonna keep trying.

Learn enough Web design that I can make a Web site of my own. I taught myself a ton of Photoshop. Does that count?

Get my long-dormant book published and/or my old newspaper column revived and syndicated. Oh, my goodness. Look at the time …

Continue in my personal quest to demonstrate to the world that gay people aren't abstract “threats” to the common good. We haven’t completely succeeded in destroying marriage, defiling the innocents, and filling the world with disgust and despair, but Secret Operative Dubya and Secret Operative Pope are still working on it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Note to self:

Some things you should never try to get at a discount: Lunch meat. Surgery. Hiking boots. Back waxings.

And you should ESPECIALLY avoid back waxings at cosmetology colleges.

First of all, there's none of that zen atmosphere to give you the illusion that the experence is one of calm and tranquility. No dim lights. No soothing music. No sheets on the bed. In fact, there's really no bed; it's just a padded vinyl chaise that wobbles so much they'll ask you just to sit on the end of it to avoid potential collapse.

Then there's the whole amateur-with-a-pot-of-wax factor. Amateurs are clumsy. They slop wax on your jeans. They miss enough wax that you find yourself surgically attached to your coat when you get home. They miss enough hair that you wonder why you drove clear across town to save a buck when you could have done a more thorough job on your own with nothing more than a can of paint thinner and a match.

And speaking of saving a buck, that whole cosmetology college = deep discounts thing is a myth. They may cut your hair for only five bucks, but they'll end up charging you a dollar more than you'd pay at Nordstrom Spa for a more thorough waxing procedure. And Nordstrom Spa offers all that zen crap you thought you could live without. Hell, Nordstrom Spa even gives you complimentary bottled water.

On the flip side, though, Nordstrom Spa also gives you an immediate case of post-waxing pimples. And so far, the cosmetology college route has given you nothing but (mostly) hairless skin. But maybe the pimples are part of the post-graduate work.

To recap:
Wobbly vinyl chaise + Shania Twain + Clumsy McWaxSlopper = bad
Indirect lighting + fresh sheets + fake bamboo in the lobby = good

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reindeer Games

Canasta. It's a family tradition stretching back almost 10 years. We play it every time we get together. And I still hate to lose.

Deluxe Scrabble. After shamelessly coveting my friends' Deluxe Scrabble games--with their built-in turntables and their little ridges so the tiles don't slide around--for years, I finally got a Deluxe Scrabble of my very own for Christmas. And now I need a new commandment to break I've already gotten my mom and sister hooked. We played for four hours on Monday night, and I even took a picture of our best board to post here, but my folks are on dial-up and I frankly don't have the patience to crop and upload an image on a computer I have to pedal. If I had posted the picture, though, the caption would go something like this: See queen in the top right? I did that. My sister made it queeny (even though that's usually my job) and racked up a ton of points. And see fag down there on the left? That was my mom's handiwork. She got a double-word score for it.

Post-Holiday Sales. The crowds! The gridlock! The tempers! I used to avoid the Iowa post-holiday rush at all costs. But now that I live in Chicago, I think it's kind of cute. People bitch because they have to park ten spots away from the door and because there are six people in line ahead of them and what's wrong with this country if they have to wait more than five minutes to purchase a ceramic teddy bear, damnit?

Wireless Provider Smackdown! My first cell phone service provider (name forgotten) was spotty and unreliable and generally worthless, but that's what cell phones did, and we didn't complain. Then it got bought by Cingular, who made all kinds of promises that just called attention to its shortcomings: I still couldn't use my phone in my home or office, and I dropped more calls than I actually completed on purpose. And Cingular had corporate ties to SBC Ameritech, who treated me so hatefully when I moved to Chicago that I will never do business with them again (and I hate orange anyway). So I switched to T-Mobile, who offered a definite improvement, but I still couldn't use my phone in my home, and there were huge stretches of western Illinois and eastern Iowa that gave me no service when I was driving back and forth to visit my family. So now I'm on Chapter Four: Verizon. And I switched here in Iowa, where I don't have to plan my day around the process. And the verdict: So far, so good--except the phone they sold me has nothing but piercing, irritating ringtones to choose among. I did succomb to the camera-phone craze that all the kids are talking about, though. I'll let you know what develops.

Keeping up with the friendses. So far I've squeezed in holiday reunions with my ex, the girl my sister and I went to Norwegian camp with in junior high, a friend who is fighting admirably to recover from stage 4 ovarian cancer and a high-school friend who was a diver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (and who was practically bursting with the news that these hunky twins from our alma mater are doing porn in LA, though he couldn't clarify what kind of porn). Next on the docket: a reunion lunch with the fun people I used to work with.

Back, crack and sack. Well, actually just back, but I like saying "back, crack and sack." Back, crack and sack! I'm getting my wisps of old-man back hair ripped from my body this afternoon at the local cosmetology college. Which should cost about a million dollars less than it does at Nordstrom Spa. Same pain, less money!

Child manipulation. And by "child manipulation" I mean "being manipulated by a child." Example! "Uncle Jake, can I have some candy?" No. "Then can I have a Junior Mint?" Example! "Grandpa, do you want a Hershey's Kiss?" Yes, that sounds good. "Then I think I'll have one with you." Example! "Hey, that's MY toy! You don't get to play with it." "I was just getting it out for YOU to play with."

Eat-like-a-pig rationalization. An entire pizza. 20 cookies. Two cans of Coke. 20 more cookies. I'll ... um ... eat nothing but toothpicks and water when I get back to Chicago.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Sithmas!

So the presents are opened, the food is inhaled responsibly consumed, the Santa myth tradition is preserved for yet another year ... and, once again, my family kept its promise not to get too vulgar with the Christmas consumerism.

I got some socks, a few extra pieces for my new dish set (in case a Clumsy McDishDropper comes for a visit), a deluxe Scrabble game (to replace the ghetto Scrabble I've been so embarrassed to use when my cruelly judgmental friends come over for an evening of Vocabulary Smackdown!), and a nice quilted flannel shirt to match the ones my dad and brother-in-law also got (1, 2, 3: awww!).

The kids, as should be expected, got the best haul again this year, racking up a (modest) pile of toys, books, more toys and even a bunch of mouse crap Disney consumer products to gear them up for the family's upcoming WDW vacation at the end of January.

Most painful toy: My niece's American Idol! karaoke machine. At 4, my niece has yet to master the art of matching tones--and the poor thing has NO grasp of reading lyrics off a TV monitor--so as the rest of us listen to endless loops of "This Old Man" and "I Been Workin' on the Railroad (Dancefloor Mix)," she just kind of moans incoherently into her microphone and creates A Very Yoko Ono Christmas atmosphere for everyone within earshot.

Most retro toy: My nephew's Battleship game. He's 6, and while he can figure out coordinates on the battleship grid (because he's our little genius), he's not so big on things like strategy or accurate peg placement. Which makes the game VERY long.

Least Christmas-like activity: My sister's family got the entire Star Wars DVD set, and we watched Revenge of the Sith this afternoon. All 843 poorly acted hours of it. I'm no science fiction/mythology/religion fan, and I think the last Star Wars movie I saw was the one where Harrison Ford got frozen in a block of stone. And I saw it when it was still in the theaters. Back when Parker Stevenson was steaming up my TV (and my hormone-addled adolescent brain) each shirtless week on The Hardy Boys.

Um ... where was I? Oh, yes: a galaxy far, far away from interesting. A galaxy where people and little puppets say things like "You fool! I have been trained in your Jedi Arts ... by Count Dooku!" and "Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo!" and "Into exile I must go. Failed I have." without once looking straight at the camera and mouthing the words "Sorry to have to put you through this, Folks. I took this job just to pay for the implants." A galaxy where the shag haircut never seems to go out of style. A galaxy where nobody has figured out that long opera capes are about as useful as oversized sombreros when you're jumping in and out of tiny space ships and engaging in heated swordplay. A galaxy that has mastered the science of holographic conference calls but seems to have lost the prenatal technology that would alert the wife of a fancy-highrise-dwelling military superstar that the baby she's carrying is actually twins. (If only they'd had the budget to hire Dr. Tom Cruise as her ob/gyn. If only.)

Unbearable Lightness of Being a Sith Lord notwithstanding, it's been a pretty spectacular Christmas. The family's all here, we're all healthy, and we're lucky enough to be able to buy each other's love nice gifts and stuff our tummies with Norwegian recipes that have been made in my family every Christmas for generations.

Plus, I got new socks!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Do I look dry to you? Do I smell?

It’s been A Foo-Foo Skincare Christmas Non-Specific Winter Holiday for me so far this year. To wit:

Bliss lemon + sage products from the guy I dogsit for
Bliss lemon + sage products (with bonus vanilla + bergamot products) from a co-worker (with no dogsitter overlap—which means I’m collecting the whole set!)
• Imported! Avène crème pour peaux intolerants products from a French co-worker

Best of all? I LOVE Bliss lemon + sage products! They’re (relatively) manly, they smell awesome and they don’t trigger my skin’s hypersensitive perfume issues. The Avène products are also (relatively) manly, also of the citrus family, and also magically engineered not to make me red, bumpy and itchy.

But … um … when you look at this fruity embarrassment of riches through cynical eyes, you have to wonder if there’s a subtext:

Jake! I got you some of your favorite soaps because your butt stinks when you walk.

You poor thing! You must be so uncomfortable with that dry skin and I swear I will push you down the stairs into the waiting arms of a very lonely sewer worker if a single flake of you drifts off and lands in my salad.

I choose to think, though, the gifts were given in the spirit of Jake Likes Lemon Things.

* * * * *

Speaking of dry, flaky skin, I’m finally back in the gym after two full months of Way Too Busy To Work Out. All the just-for-show muscles I’d been so carefully cultivating over the last few decades didn’t shrink as much as I’d feared during my hiatus, and they’ve actually bounced back pretty well over the last two weeks. But boy howdy (that’s cowboy talk) does my skin feel like it’s cracking and ripping every time I get a good pump going. And all the (relatively) manly lemon + sage essential oils in the world don’t seem to help. But if the Hulk had to rip through his clothes to get jacked, I guess I have to be willing to rip through my own skin.

* * * * *

I’m heading home to do laundry (so I don’t have to schlep it to my folks’ house like some poverty-stricken college student) and then I’m driving off for a week of Christmas Non-Specific Winter Holiday R&R with my family. Be good while I’m gone.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The darkest day

It’s the winter solstice—the day with the least scheduled sunlight all year (though it’s pretty bright and sunny today in Chicago). From this point forward, the sun will start sticking around a little bit more each afternoon, the days will seem longer and longer (in a good way), and eventually spring will save us from all this brutal coldness and dry skin and evening commutes through the inky blackness.

It was just as bright and sunny 17 years ago today in Iowa when my dad came to pick me up from college for the holiday break. I had finished all my tests, bought myself a fancy new Madras plaid watchband as a reward for surviving another semester (hey—it was the ’80s) and enjoyed a nice catch-up in the car on the way home.

And then my world came crashing down.

Mom met us in the driveway when we got home. She was sobbing. Hysterical. Without her coat. She had just undergone a radical mastectomy, and our first instinct was that she’d gotten some bad news from her oncologist.

But the bad news was something entirely different: Miriam’s plane had gone down.

Miriam was a friend of mine who had spent the semester in London studying under the auspices of Syracuse University. I’d been to visit her over the Thanksgiving break, and we’d had a great time seeing the sights, exploring the museums and taking in all the shows we could afford on our college-student budgets.

I’d been so caught up in my own finals and holiday preparations that I’d had no idea Miriam was flying home that day—much less what flight she was on. Neither had my mom. But my friend Jody in Ohio did. And when the initial reports that Pan Am flight 103 had disappeared out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, started washing over the newswires, Jody had called everyone she could think of.

Mom and Dad and I raced to the family room and crowded around the TV that crisp, sunny Iowa afternoon to see what we could find out about Miriam’s plane. It was the early days of CNN and 24-hour news, so we were able to get (spotty) information right away about the mysterious crash, along with grainy images of the wreckage shining dimly in the emergency lights that were working so hard to pierce the solstice blackness six time zones away.

Over time, of course, the world came to learn about the bomb, the Libyans, the embargoes, the bankruptcies. We cautiously wrapped our brains around the unthinkable efficiencies of global terrorism at the dawn of the Information Age. We started budgeting time for intrusive security searches at airports. We stopped packing forbidden objects in our carry-ons.

Seventeen years ago today, the world learned what a volatile mix misanthropy and religion and blind nationalism can become in a global melting pot.

Seventeen years ago today, Miriam and her fellow passengers and their families and friends learned violently and unwillingly about harsh brutalalities that the rest of the world got the relative luxury of absorbing over time.

Seventeen years ago today, I realized that the distant tragedies that so often happen to “other people” should never be observed as abstractions. I discovered that unspeakable horrors played out on the world stage can be both vulgar and comforting. I learned that life is precious, that there are no guarantees, that people who waste your time are just robbing you, that small gestures can make heroic impressions, that your pain and suffering and anguish and heartbreak do not make you special, that no matter how bad it gets you should find solace in the fact that it will probably get better, or at least easier.

Seventeen years ago today, I became a man.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Big Gay Movie Weekend!

Work and the chorus show and general holiday cheer obligations have taken their toll on my movie-attending social budget, but this weekend I suddenly had some Jake time, where I: 1) finished my damn Christmas letter, 2) bought myself a little something-something (a vase and a tealight holder from the handsome Nate Berkus collection at Linens-n-Things) and 3) actually went to two movies. Two VERY gay movies.

Movie #1: I’ve never been a HUGE fan of Rent. I liked it enough, but it somehow never captured my soul the way other musicals have. (And though I loved “Seasons of Love” the first 525,600 times I heard it, the song has grown more than tiresome.) But I’ll watch almost any movie musical and find something to love in it. And I really liked the movie—waaaay more than I liked the stage version. (Maybe because I saw it on stage from the back row of the top balcony, which was so far away that it looked like the whole show was being acted and sung by trained fleas.)

My favorite part of Rent (the movie): The “Tango Maureen” dream sequence. (Who knew Idina Menzel sould dance so sexy?) My second favorite part: the opening scenes with all the burning paper falling to the street. Pretty! And the fact that they cast the guy from Xanadu to play Roger.

My least favorite part: All that fake steam coming out of people’s mouths to show that it was cold outside. I noticed it right away and then couldn’t tear my eyes away from its fakeness every time they digitally added it to a scene. Which is ALL THE TIME. My second least favorite part: Maureen’s protest. Yawn.

Movie #2: Brokeback Mountain is everything I’d hoped for … and everything I knew was coming, thanks to the endless coverage it’s gotten in the press and the blogosphere. I’d read enough about it that I’d kinda figured out what happens at the end, though the way it all happens was still a surprise to me. Still, the movie is beautifully told and intelligently written, with dialogue as achingly sparse and as rich with beauty as its settings.

There’s really nothing I can say about it that hasn’t already been said, but of course I have a few observations:
• A love story between two men should involve less boobie and more manbutt.
• I’d never seen Jake Gyllenhaal in a movie before. Now I understand what all the fuss is about. (He’s cute enough in still photos, but his charms are exponentially more obvious on the silver screen.)
• Anne Hathaway is hot. I’d do her. But just to get to her husband.
• Um … I guess all my observations are sexually motivated. Except this one: I was expecting it to be earth-shattering cinema, with high-octane emotional jolts and audible sobs. So I wasn’t prepared for its subtlety. For its just-like-real-life untidiness. For the way it stuck with me for hours after we left the theater. It’s a powerful story, but it’s told in whispers and mumbles. And that’s the way it should be told. Go see it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Got your tickets yet?

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There are only two more days until the cows come home ... and by "cows" I mean "fake cowboys" and by "come home" I mean "sing and dance like big gay homos."

A Cowboy Christmas is going to be a hoot, so click on the pretty picture above to order your tickets -- and you'll be able to see people like me and this guy and this guy singing and dancing and acting goofy and generally behaving like little girls do when they're pretending to be princesses (except we're big girls and we're pretending to be cowboys).

Friday, December 9, 8:00 pm
Saturday, December 10, 5:00 pm
Saturday, December 10, 8:30 pm

The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport

More Info:
Our endlessly clever web site

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